TONNES of soft fruit is being left to rot in the fields of Perthshire because farmers can’t find enough seasonal workers to meet demand.

The situation is now “critical” according to one local MSP, who has called on the UK Government to intervene and relax rules around immigration.

At least three major soft fruit growers said produce went to waste on bushes last week.

The industry has unprecedented demand, and, thanks to the weather, a bumper crop that’s ripened faster than usual – but that’s of little use to the growers, who say they could do with thousands more workers than they have.

Meg Marshall of Peter Marshall Fruit at Alyth, told the Press and Journal she had to leave 15 tonnes of strawberries and five tonnes of raspberries to rot last week.

“The fruit is ripening so fast, by the time the pickers get to the end of a drill they need to start all over again.

“Lots of growers are in this situation – we’re all short and panicking. We need to be able to employ workers from the Ukraine and Morocco and even Thailand, like other EU countries do.”

William Houston from Angus Soft Fruits said he was concerned about levels of stress in the industry, saying it reminded him of working with livestock farmers during the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

“We’re all aware of farmer suicides and I’m not saying we’re necessarily at the same level here, but people are going quiet and the stresses are pretty enormous,” he said.

SNP MSP Graeme Dey said: “This situation is now critical. Because of the deliberate choices made by this Tory Government, soft fruit farmers are being forced to leave tonnes of quality produce lying in the fields to rot.

“That is nothing short of scandalous – it means lost income for them, a hugely damaging impact upon the local economy and lost confidence in the sector for future years.

“And it’s not just farmers’ livelihoods at risk, but their mental health too – with huge pressures and stress in the industry, evoking memories some of the worst crises ever to hit Scottish agriculture.

“The UK Government cannot continue to sit idly by. We need more seasonal workers and we need them now. Keeping the door closed in the face of valuable labour – those who want to come here to work hard and help our economy – serves nobody’s purposes.

“It’s policy designed to appease the extreme right-wing in the Tory party, instead of working for Scotland.”

On Wednesday, Westminster’s cross-party Scottish Affairs Committee called on the government to reintroduce the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, which ended in 2014.

There are an estimated 75,000 temporary migrant agricultural workers in the UK every summer, compared with the 80,000 workers the industry claims it needs, with the figure expected to rise to 95,000 by 2021.

Scottish Tory MP for Angus Kristene Hair, said: “The soft fruits industry in my constituency of Angus and in other parts of the UK are in desperate need of seasonal labour, not just from within the European Economic Area, but from other countries around the world. This is not just a Brexit issue.”